Thursday, May 30, 2013

What to watch for on the last day of the legislature's spring session

By Meredith Colias and Jamey Dunn 

The Illinois General Assembly heads toward its final day tomorrow with plenty of issues still to address.

Here some things to watch for …

Same-sex marriage 
With a same-sex marriage vote possibly looming tomorrow, supporters at the Capitol urged lawmakers today to take up the issue before adjournment. Teresa Volpe, who came with her partner and young children, said it was “about the message that is being sent to our family.” Volpe said she wanted to show her children “they are not born into a society of inequality.”

The bill has been dormant in the House since February, when the Senate ushered it through the chamber on Valentine's Day. Since then, its sponsor, Chicago Democratic Rep. Greg Harris, has been secretive on its House prospects. Whether Harris has the votes to secure its passage is still unknown. Many undecided legislators are not publicly saying whether they will support the legislation, waiting until the final moment to reveal their intentions. Illinois barely passed civil unions in 2010, 61 to 52, and not all legislators who supported it then may necessarily support same-sex marriage now if the vote is called. President Barack Obama, a former Illinois state senator, waited until later in his presidency to publicly support same-sex marriage. During an appearance this week in Chicago, he urged the House to take up the legislation, Senate Bill 10.

Budget bills 
The House still needs to vote on budgets for K-12 and higher education. Better-than-expected tax revenues are allowing the legislature to avoid cuts proposed in the governor’s March budget next year for general state aid, transportation, bilingual and early childhood education. The legislature’s higher education budget also avoids a 5 percent cut the governor called for, as well.

The K-12 funding is included in Senate Bill 2555.  The higher education funding is included in Senate Bill 2556.

The Senate plans to take up two budget bills tomorrow as well:

  • House Bill 214 is general services spending, the General Assembly’s budget and the constitutional officers' budgets.
  • HB 215 is public safety and transportation spending, Illinois Department of Corrections budget, capital construction spending for the next fiscal year and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources budget. Both have been approved by the House.

Health insurance exchange 
The bill authorizing the “Obamacare” online insurance marketplace exchange passed the Senate and awaits a vote in the House to confirm or reject changes the Senate made that need to be reconciled before the legislation can be sent to the governor. Individuals would be allowed to purchase health insurance plans if they do not receive health insurance through an employer. The exchange is scheduled to begin in 2014. The bill is House Bill 3227.

Speed limit increase
A bill increasing the highway speed limit to 70 mph in most of downstate Illinois has passed both chambers and now heads to the governor. Freshman Republican Sen. Jim Oberweis of Sugar Grove sponsored the Senate version. Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will, Madison and St. Clair counties would be able to opt out of the increase. The bill is Senate Bill 2356.

Drones 
A bill narrowly defining drone use by law enforcement passed the House, and now the Senate needs to take up changes the House made. The Senate version allowed law enforcement to use a drone quickly to prevent extensive damage to property. The House version rejects that. The bill is Senate Bill 1587.

Pension changes 
The House and Senate appear to have reached an impasse on the issue, but anything can happen on the last day of session. Keep an eye out for an attempt at a last-minute compromise.

Gaming 
Blue Island Democratic Rep. Robert Rita, the sponsor of SB 1739, said today that he hopes to have a final bill tomorrow. It wouldn’t be the end of session without a push for a gambling expansion.

Concealed carry of firearms
Players from both chambers are reportedly meeting on this issue. The two bills from each chamber are not that far apart, so a compromise bill is a possibility.

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